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Keystone Woods in Springfield Scripts a Success Story as Construction Continues
Joe Roche

Joe Roche, in front of Grayson House at Keystone Woods, said unit reservations are well above the national average.

Joe Roche, the local managing partner of the new 17-acre assisted and independent living facility Keystone Woods in Springfield, is particularly fond of the development’s theater-style movie rooms, complete with over-sized, flat screen televisions, leather arm chairs, and popcorn machines.

“The residents love them, and I’m unaware of any other facility such as ours that includes theaters like these,” he said.

But beyond being an extra perk for residents at Keystone Woods, those cinemas also serve as an apt metaphor for Roche and his work in the elder care sector. It’s a career that has seen a lot of action for several years, but now, Roche is in the midst of what is likely his biggest blockbuster.

Roche, president of Roche Associates, LLC of Wilbraham, and his wife Joan, a nursing professor at UMass Amherst, are the largest shareholders of Keystone Woods, which opened its independent living facility last year and recently opened an assisted living building (construction continues at both buildings to further expand services as well as the number of units). They’re also the only local owners, and have been involved in the senior living industry on a national level for more than 25 years, primarily in the areas of market research.

In terms of Roche’s career in the field, the Keystone Woods development has been a long time coming; despite his involvement with successful projects in other parts of the country, he said he first eyed senior living development opportunities in Western Mass. a decade ago, when some market research suggested a strong consumer base for such services in his own backyard.

Through perseverance and imagination, he has taken his initial vision to reality.

Survey Says …

Roche told BusinessWest that he was first involved in a potential development project at the former Springfield Technical High School property off State Street, but that development never got off the ground.

“However, at the time we conducted a study that showed us that 75% of the seniors in the area had lived here for 50 years or more, and what that told us was they weren’t going to be quick to leave,” he continued, adding that the immediate challenge was finding a suitable site on which to build.

Roche’s research of the market 10 years ago has thus far proven accurate — today, 71 of the facility’s 97 rentable units are occupied, and most of Keystone’s residents previously lived within a seven to 10-mile radius of the facility.

“The majority of our residents are coming from the Forest Park and Sixteen Acres neighborhoods of Springfield, but we’re also seeing many people from East Longmeadow, Longmeadow, and Wilbraham,” Roche explained. “I think people like the concept of a senior living community that has been created specifically to serve their needs and reflect the region.”

Keystone Woods is managed by Keystone Senior Management Services, based in Indianapolis. Roche said 10 similar properties have been developed by the company across the country; Roche served as a market consultant for Keystone projects in Iowa and Kentucky. When he independently secured an option to purchase land in the Sixteen Acres section of Springfield, his associates at Keystone were open to the idea of managing a new property in Western Mass.

“They weren’t actively seeking an opportunity in this area,” Roche explained, “but once they visited the site, their interest was piqued. They liked the fact that the property would be located within a city, but would feel like it was in the suburbs. They liked the overall residential appeal of the city.”

Armed with a plot of land and a positive outlook, the Roches entered into a partnership with three other players at Keystone — Dave Kingen, Tim Eldredge, and Tony Mullen — to begin construction of phase one of the Keystone Woods development, 58 independent living units grouped under the name The Gardens, in the fall of 2004. That aspect of the development was completed about one year later, and phase two, which added 39 more units, was completed last month.

Similarly, phase one of the facility’s assisted living apartments, dubbed Grayson House and located adjacent to The Gardens, was completed in February, and phase two of the development, which will add 18 units dedicated specifically to the care of residents with memory-related disorders and issues, is expected to be completed by the end of this month.

The total pricetag on the project to date is $22 million — no small figure in the City of Homes, which has seen few such investments in recent years. But beyond the scope of the actual development, Roche said he and his partners have remained focused on creating a viable suite of services for local residents, one that not only represents the latest in elder care advancements, but also caters to the diverse populations of seniors within the city, particularly from a socio-economic standpoint.

The People in the Neighborhood

“This is a high-end development, but one that houses seniors spanning the entire economic spectrum,” he said, noting that Keystone’s size and existing capital has translated into lower rates for residents. Roche characterized those rates — about $2,000 a month for a single- occupancy residence at The Gardens and between $2,000 and $4,000 for a unit at Grayson House — as competitive with similar communities in New England. And beyond an initial rental deposit, residents aren’t asked for large lump sums of money or entrance fees up front.

“The partnership with Keystone created an extremely good construction value,” he said. “A building of this magnitude under different circumstances could have cost us 20% to 25% more, but with the Keystone partnership, we’ve been able to control our costs that much more. Keystone has some exemplary operating systems.”

In addition, management has developed a ‘step-down’ option for residents facing dwindling resources for any number of reasons — due to the large number of double-occupancy apartments, residents in single units may opt to take on a roommate for added savings. Similarly, Grayson House welcomes elders enrolled in the state’s group adult foster care system, which provides subsidies for assisted living for qualified residents.

“Both are ways for us to provide assisted living packages to people in all income brackets,” said Roche, “and to allow people to stay longer.”

He added that rentals have been brisk in both buildings.

“It’s been a very exciting time for us. We’re filling The Gardens at a rate of twice the national average, netting more than 10 new rentals per month. The national average for assisted living placements is 2.2 a month, and we’re currently hovering around six.

“I truly believe that the reason is that we have developed a better product than the norm,” Roche continued, listing some of the services he and his partners chose to incorporate as standard offerings at Keystone. “The standard personal care plan for an assisted living facility is 30 to 40 minutes per day, and we provide an hour and a half. Apartments are fully-loaded, and I like to think we have the best line-up of activities here — everything from health screenings to swing dancing. The overall mission is to ensure that people’s lives are enhanced.”

Curtain Call

To that end, Roche remains an active part of all aspects of planning and development at Keystone Woods, from marketing and advertising initiatives to activity direction. He’s a frequent flyer at The Gardens’ Friday night cocktail hours, and has recruited his own daughter to teach swing dance lessons to residents.

And he personally bought the chicken wings for a recent event held in the movie room at The Gardens. He heard many of his residents had yet to try them, and he bought a box of 150.

They were gone by intermission.

Jaclyn Stevenson can be reached at[email protected]

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